Preserving Our Way of Life
"Concerned that indigenous
peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter
alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories
and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular,
their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,
Qwaxw (Spencer Siwallace) was born and raised in Bella Coola. His parents
are Bruce and Mary Lynn Siwallace. He is the grandson of Cecilia and
Joe Siwallace, and the great grandson of Margaret and Stephen Siwallace;
Felicity (Walkus) and Albert Hood. Qwaxw graduated from the University
of British Columbia with a degree in Forestry in 2001. In 2007 he was
elected as Chief Councillor.
Salmon Are Our Food Fishery
When the first Spring (Chinook) Salmon return to the Bella Coola River, the Nuxalk gather to give thanks, walking from the House of Noomst to the Song House.
"The Nuxalk people
have always kept our food fishery separate from the commercial fishery
to protect the food fishery from exploitation and over harvesting.
Food fish is for personal use and to maintain the health and structure
of each Nuxalk family. The Nuxalk Fisheries Office is a scientific
based research facility focused on the salmon and other fish species,
with a clear goal for conservation, assessment, enumeration and enhancement
project development and implementation." Jason
Moody, Fish Biologist, Nuxalk Fisheries Office.
Above: Suncw (Jesse Oud) cleaning salmon, 1997.
Chief Qwatsinas on the Nuxalk
salmon fishery: "I guess I would say respect for Indian ways. I was arguing
with [the government] Fisheries last month. They wanted to cut our fishing
down to two days, from four days. I said, 'No, I can't do that. Not when
it's the economy of our people. If you can cut your (white) economy in
half for the benefit of my people, then maybe we can consider this. We
used to use the weir system (of fishing) where we could keep track of
the salmon runs and if there were not enough going upstream we wouldn't
take so many. We had to let enough escape to get upriver to the villages
farther up. We looked after the river. The old people walked up and down
the reeks (checking conditions throughout the entire system). Who is
doing that today? I don't see anybody looking after the river. All they
(the officials) do is look after their figures and their closures. .
time immemorial certain restrictions have been enforced concerning
the Bella Coola River. It is said that after the first peoples descended
to Earth from the land above Alhkw'ntam (the Creator) along with other
supernatural beings instructed the people to follow these river restrictions.
Alhkw'ntam gave names to some of the first People who held the right
to be a River Guardian.
Nuxalk Traditional Foods
Right: A Nuxalk petroglyph at Thorsen Creek on the cover
of a book on indigenous foods.
Right: Nuxalk Elder Bill Tallio was filmed for the indigenous foods project. Many researchers have relied on his knowledge about the ancient Nuxalk traditions of gathering and preparing native foods.
Above: "Bella Coola Indians with potatoe crop,"1913. This photo was taken when the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs visited the Bella Coola Indian Reserve. Other photos showed apple orchards and farm fields.
The Nuxalkmc were the first farmers in the valley. They were introduced to potatoes, squash, corn and fruits by explorers and settlers. Nuxalk potatoes were famous with other First Nations peoples. The Nuxalk village at old town on the north side of the river provided exceptional growing sites and abundant gardens. When Indian reserves were being created in BC the Nuxalkmc requested a large piece of land for growing and selling potatoes and vegetables. However, when the reservation boundaries were drawn up, the chief at the time wasn’t consulted. The rest of the best farm land in the valley was acquired by Norwegian settlers . . . In a relatively short span of time access to and the availability of traditional foods greatly decreased due to private property, logging, and over fishing. Over the years the number of people able to make a living by farming, logging and fishing decreased. For the past seven years, ooligans, a fish of cultural and nutritional importance for the Nuxalkmc, have not returned in their traditional numbers (Inner Central Coast Economic Recovery Plan, 2003).
A Traditional Wedding
Left and below: On 2 July 2010 Terry Elliott and Wilma Mack tied the knot in a traditional Nuxalk ceremony in Bella Coola. Nuxalk teacher Clyde Tallio researched the work by anthropologists Franz Boas and Thomas McIlwraith for historical accuracy.
Above and right: Nuxalk twins Lance and Charles Nelson
are talented artists who teach
at the Acwsalcta School and perform traditional music at many ceremonies
in Bella Coola. Traditional Nuxalk music is complex and has been studied
by many scholars. Among the most important Nuxalk Elders to pass on their
knowledge and passion for singing was the group seen below in the